Planning Inclusively: Make Communities Just for All

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. Jacaranda trees can be seen in the street.Urban planning is a highly contested and politicised area to work in. The talk is that planning is about people, not roads and buildings. But when do users – people – get a say in planning? Only at the end when plans are put on exhibition. Then you need to be an expert to understand them. Planning inclusively is to make communities just for all. 

Lisa Stafford, in a briefing paper, asks how well do we consider human diversity in planning cities and regions?  Planners and bureaucrats would rarely even consider the concept of “Ableism” in their designs. That’s why we still have marginalisation by design. The lens of the average or the “normal” person is rarely put aside for a lens of diversity. 

Graphic with four circles: one each for exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion.Social planning can drive inclusive communities because it operates from a justice framework. Participatory planning is one way to work towards inclusion. 

The tile of Lisa Stafford’s paper is, Planning Inclusively: Disrupting ‘Ableism’ to Make Communities Just for All.  She has four recommendations at the end of her easy to read paper. Briefly they are:

      1. Adopt an approach of planning for all
      2. Apply spatial justice thinking to planning
      3. Embed universal design as a core planning principle
      4. Re-emphasise the social in planning

Editorial Introduction 

“Disabled people continue to experience exclusion by design in our everyday spaces, infrastructure and services, which has been magnified through the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, there is an opportunity for urban and regional planning practitioners, researchers and disabled people to come together to advocate for and create inclusive, sustainable communities for all. However, to make this transformative, we must first critically question how well do we really consider human diversity in planning cities, towns and regions? This question is examined in this briefing paper by contesting entrenched challenges like ‘ableism’ before providing fundamental starting points for planners in planning more inclusive and just communities for all.”

Make flying less miserable

Inside the cabin of an aircraft, people are queuing in the aisle to take their seatsWhat brings repeat business to an airline? Improving snack selection, smiling staff, warm welcome messages on video screens? None of these. Anyone who has travelled by air, even those who do it regularly, will know that the aircraft itself is rarely the issue. The issue is anxiety. And you can double that for anyone with a cognitive or physical condition which makes it more difficult. So what can be done to make flying less miserable?

An interesting article in FastCompany explains how the anxiety begins before leaving home. Will I miss my flight? Is my baggage under the weight limit and will it arrive safely? Will there be room for my carry-on? And in the current situation, will I catch COVID? The anxiety continues with queues for passport control, waiting for baggage and finally getting to the destination. No wonder travel is tiring.

So the answer to improving customer satisfaction and repeat business is finding ways to reduce anxiety and smooth the the travel experience. The article makes no mention of travellers who need additional supports, but the content of the article has some good points. It is basically about designing the travel experience to be more convenient and easy to use – aligning with universal design concepts. 

There are lessons here for any business selling an experience. The title of the FastCompany article is, Three shockingly obvious ways to make flying less miserable

There is a related article about the future of air travel and how problems might be solved with AI. The article covers  boarding processes, linking ground transport with air transport, and minimising poor passenger behaviour.

See related information in the Airport travel guide for people with dementia

Nike meets Universal Design

The Nike shoe is fashioned with pastel coloured sections. The picture shows a person taking their foot out of the shoe.Nike meets universal design again. They’ve improved their original Flyease design with a new shoe concept. They’ve found a totally different way of making the shoe easy to get on and off. So anyone experiencing trouble bending over, difficulty with fastenings, or just needing a speedy on and off will find this design excellent. When they are past their best they would make a great gardening shoe too – slip on and slip off at the door. Like all good designers who take a universal design approach, they’ve improved on their original design.

The secret of the new design is the way the shoe opens up to put on. The weight of the foot closes the shoe. Taking off is easy too. By stepping on the heel of the shoe (don’t we all do that anyway?) the shoe pops open. The Flyease Go shoes are an excellent example of universal design. They are easy, convenient and intuitive to use – for everyone. Well almost. Much will depend on the range of sizing. 

There is more information and two short videos on the FastCompany website that show how they work. Or you can visit the Nike website

There is also a YouTube video where the designer explains how they work and what the design concerns were. A great piece of engineering. 

 

 

Access doesn’t guarantee social participation

Library building with wide level paved pathway to the entrance. Picture taken in Berrigan NSW.It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it. So, it’s all very well being able to physically access the built environment, but access doesn’t guarantee social participation. Just considering how the shapes, sizes and ages of different bodies physically interact with the built environment is not enough. If universal design is about increasing access as well as physical and mental wellbeing then there is more work to do. This is the summation of a recent literature review that found social participation aspects of universal design is under researched. 

Similarly to other research on inclusive practice, the need to include non-professionals and users of the built environment is key to creating an accessible and inclusive built environment. The final sentence in the literature review sums up a good call to action. Universal design straddles multiple boundaries. So the amount of collective universal design knowledge should be available and accessible to everyone. Indeed, that is just what CUDA is trying to achieve along with many practitioners

The literature review’s key question was “How is social participation represented in recent discourse around universal design in the built environment”. Studies from around the world were examined from 52 databases. The article includes the methodology and results. 

It is easier to measure whether a person can use a building (accessibility) than it is to measure what they are using it for (participation). The Australian Standards cover accessibility and this is why the story often ends here. 

The title of the article is, An integrated literature review of the current discourse around universal design in the built environment – is occupation the missing link?  The term “occupation” is from the occupational therapy field and means “doing things”. You will need institutional access for a free read. However, you can ask the lead author, Danielle Hitch at Deakin University, for a copy. Or Valerie Watchorn via ResearchGate.  

Abstract

Purpose: To synthesise current literature regarding applications of universal design (UD) to built environments that promote social participation, identify areas of agreement and areas requiring further attention and development. Occupations refer to personally meaningful activities, which people need, want or must do as part of their daily life.

Materials and methods: Recently published literature (January 2011–December 2017) relevant to UD and built environments, and pertaining to any discipline or professional area, were identified via a systematic search of databases in the EbscoHOST platform. The person–environment–occupation (PEO) model was chosen as a theoretical framework for the review, which included a sample of 33 peer reviewed journal articles.

Results: The current discourse is driven more by description, discussion, and commentary than empirical approaches; although, a combination of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods approaches was employed. Much of the current discourse on UD and the built environment focuses on the person and the environment, with the occupations carried out in built environments and the interaction between these domains not referred to in much detail.

Conclusions: Including occupations, social participation, multi- and trans-disciplinary collaboration, and multicultural perspectives in the ongoing discourse around UD would enable the concept to reach its full potential as a medium for social justice.

Implications for Rehabilitation: The universal design (UD) process must account for the occupations that people perform in the built environment. Multi-disciplinary research and development, using multiple methods, is the most appropriate approach to investigate the application of UD to the built environment. Key areas of contention within the current discourse include meaningful inclusion of non-professional stakeholders, tensions between embracing and eliminating diversity and how professional education should be delivered.

Inclusive – Universal Debate

A man in a checked shirt and wearing a beard looks as if he is talking while pointing his finger at someone.The academic debate about nuanced differences between universal design and inclusive design continue. But to what purpose? However, it is useful to know where this began and why it continues. The Inclusive Design Research Centre in Canada explains:

“We have defined Inclusive Design as: design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.”

Is this not the same as universal design? It all depends on your perspective and whether you care about semantics or just getting the job done.

Universal design vs inclusive design

Professor Jutta Treviranus has a particular view about the differences. She founded the Inclusive Design Research Centre in 1993 in Canada. It was previously known as the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre. The Center for Universal Design was also established in North Carolina around this time. Due to its origins in adaptive technology, the emphasis began with information and communication technology. 

The Inclusive Design Research Centre website has a page spelling out their position. In a nutshell they explain why they use the term “inclusive”:

“While Universal Design is about creating a common design that works for everyone, we have the freedom to create a design system that can adapt, morph, or stretch to address each design need presented by each individual.”

They agree that the goals are the same – inclusion. However, they say the context is different because they come from different origins. Universal design from the built environment, and inclusive design from digital technology. They also claim that universal design is about people with disabilities and that the design methods are different.

Followers of universal design would no doubt take issue with phrases such as “one size fits all” and that it seeks only one solution to creating inclusion. The Center for Universal Design chose the term “universal” because they could see that all people could benefit from designs that included people with disability.

Academia continues to discuss nuances when there is so much real work to be done. We need more research on finding out why we still don’t have more inclusive/universal design in practice. The chart below provides an overview of the relationship between inclusive design elements. However, the 8 Goals of Universal Design are probably more practical and instructive. 

A chart showing the relationship between aspects of inclusive design.

 

Specifications for universal design

new home construction site with timber on the ground.Universal design is a thinking process that aims for the most inclusive design solutions possible – designing universally. It is a process that improves through iteration. This means that you can’t specify a standard, which is for one point in time, because it stops the process of continuing improvement. But we don’t live in a perfect world and some people just want to know they got it right. That means they want a standard. 

NATSPEC is an non-profit organisation with the aim of improved construction and productivity in the built environment. The information is free but you might need to login to get access. 

The NATSPEC website has a long list of technical notes, which cover many construction elements. New to the list are:

These technical notes are just two pages long. They are good for quick reference and for anyone new to universal design concepts. The Accessible Housing guidance refers to the Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299), Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and the Access to Premises Standard. It also references the National Construction Code and related standards.

Designing with inclusion in mind will sometimes mean that more than one solution is required. So a “one-size-fits-all” approach can be counterproductive. It also means doing the best you can with what you have at the time with a view to improving with the next iteration. 

 

ANUHD update on accessible housing regulation

Timeline for the next steps to the Regulatory Impact Statement. ANUHD update gives links to submission.Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) update has important information about the continuing work for regulating (or not) universal design features in all new housing. This update is about the extra work done after the close of submissions on the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement. The advice to government is to adopt Gold level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. Here the ANUHD update on accessible housing regulation:

 

The Melbourne Disability Institute and Summer Foundation submitted a response to the Consultation RIS for accessible housing with the recommendation that, based on the independent assessments and research they commissioned, Governments adopt Option 2, that is to regulate to Livable Housing Gold Level in the National Construction Code, as the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.

The independent assessments and research are:

    • REVIEW OF THE ECONOMIC REPORT
      The review identified four key issues that individually have a large impact on the benefit-cost ratios reported. Taken together, they totally reverse the economic credentials of the regulation. 
    • Please note: The issues raised in the analysis are highly technical. The researchers provided more concise executive summary to improve accessibility. If you have particular questions, please contact md-i@unimelb.edu.au.
    • SURVEY OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY
      This extra data aligns with the advice from the Office of Best Practice Regulation to include qualitative analysis in all Regulatory Impact Statements, particularly when important elements cannot be quantified or monetised.
    • AUDIT OF ACCESSIBLE FEATURES
      This study found that many accessibility features are already incorporated into the most popular house designs being built in Australia, but not in a systematic way. It also demonstrates that accessible features are basic elements of good house design for the general population, and indicates that the likely cost of including further accessible features to be fully consistent with the accessibility standards in new builds is very low.
    • SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT
      MDI and the Summer Foundation prepared further information for the ABCB on 6 October 2020 to substantiate their position that that governments should adopt Option 2, which would set minimum mandatory standards for accessible housing at the Gold (LHDG) standard.

CUDA and ANUHD made comprehensive submissions to the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement. 

Other submissions can be viewed online on the ABCB website. 

Economic value of universal housing design

Front cover of the report showing an older grey-haired couple sitting together smiling. Title is exploring the economic value in housing built to universal design principles.Consumers buy things that they want and need now rather than purchasing things with the future in mind. Well, that makes sense. For everyday items this poses no problems. But for expensive, longer lasting items, such as a home, it can be a problem. Many older Australians live in a home that was purchased in mid life. It was suitable then. But now that cherished home is challenging their independence in older age. That’s why all homes should have universal design features.

A new report based on a survey of care-givers, both paid and unpaid, provides insights into their experiences and observations on the impact of home design on their caring role. The researchers found that housing design features and proximity to amenities had a value that extended beyond those of residents. That is, it facilitates community capacity and social engagement, physical wellbeing and ease of providing care services. 

The executive summary concludes with a statement that supports universal design in housing for people to age well:

“The public value implicit in universally designed housing is conceptually demonstrated by associated increases in ageing well outcomes and reduction in the need for, the level of, and the time spent on, care to support positive ageing outcomes (ie. generating efficiency gains in achieving ageing well outcomes).

The key findings of the study 

    • Universal design features impact on the level of care needed to support ageing well.
    • The location of the home and access to amenities also has an impact on the level of care needed.
    • The time needed to support people with basic living activities is reduced.

The title of the report is, Exploring the economic value embedded in housing built to universal design principles: Bridging the gap between public placemaking and private residential housing.

The study was undertaken by RMIT University and the Longevity Group Australia.

Abstract: In this report, we explore the public value implicit in housing incorporating universal design principles. Value is conceptually demonstrated by identifying housing design and location attributes, associated with increases in ageing well outcomes via the reduction in the need for, the level of, and the time spent on care to support ageing in place. To do this a survey instrument is developed to capture the experiential knowledge of in home care service providers and their observations of the impact of the home on the ageing well outcomes of the seniors they care for and also on their capacity to provide care. We find that certain housing design and location feature have value that extends beyond that experienced solely by its residents, facilitating community capacity and social engagement, physical wellbeing and ease of delivery of public services such as care support.  

Design for Humanity: People and Planet

A silhouette of a person with arms outstretched around a globe of a mosaic of faces representing people of the world.Is the quest for inclusive design so difficult that we need so many different terms? Are new-fangled methodologies improving the situation if the aims are the same? Many different ways of promoting the process of designing inclusively is surely confusing everyone. Enter “Humanity-Centred Design”. This one is a bit different because it’s about the planet as well as people.

Many of our current and future designs will be inhabited by upcoming generations whose consumption patterns will have different values. According to an article from the UK designers need to embody the values of inclusion, ethics, empathy and cooperation. Designs will need to be meaningful to appeal to upcoming generations. Hence the proposition of a new paradigm or model – Humanity-Centred Design. 

The title of the article is, Humanity-Centred Design – Defining the Emerging Paradigm in Design Education and Practice

The Sustainable Development Goals also embody similar values and these are gaining traction in many fields of work.

The chart below is from the paper and shows the evolution from functional approach to a people focused approach to design.

A circular chart showing progression from function focused in the 1940s to humanity focused in the 2030s.

ABSTRACT: Product Design has been defined by several different paradigms as it has evolved to meet the needs and desires of people and in as new ways for companies to market products to consumers. As the needs and desires of people are now increasingly met by products at all price points in consumer societies companies need to embrace a new paradigm which will enable them to differentiate their products from the competition. In addition to the need for a new differentiation strategy for marketing purposes, people are also increasingly aware of both the limited and depleting natural resources of the planet and the prevalence of inequality and poverty present in the world.

A paradigm is emerging which enables companies to address all the above simultaneously. This paradigm and approach to designing products is referred to here as ‘Humanity-Centred Design’ in intentional reference to the ‘User-Centred Design’ and ‘Human-Centred Design’ methodologies which have been used by designers for the last 25 years. In this emerging paradigm there is a greater focus on designing products which are not only sustainable, but also actively contribute to the alleviation of poverty in all forms and promote human development and wellbeing worldwide, treating humanity as one global society. This paradigm is being taught to students of Product Design at Buckinghamshire New University to ensure that they are prepared to design products for the newest and future generations and the greatest proportion of consumers.

UD, ID, DfA, UX: A terminology muddle

A hand holding a coloured pen is poised over a green post it note. There are drawings on the table and a smartphone. It indicates UX design.  UD, ID, DfA, UX, UA muddle.

Researchers find it frustrating not having one term to cover the concept of equity and inclusion. One term would ensure we are all talking about the same thing.  But how about practitioners? It’s confusing for them too. The aims of universal design (UD), inclusive design (ID), design for all (DfA), and user experience (UX), have the same aim – inclusion. So why should we have a terminology muddle?

Most designers and practitioners who understand the underpinning principle of inclusion, say it’s not a big deal. But shouldn’t the key issue be about implementation rather than discussing the nuances of terms? Even if we had one term, would that alter designer and practitioner attitudes towards inclusion?

The complaint about terminology among academics has resulted in many papers on this topic. New terms are proposed as a solution but serve only to confuse more. Some even put forth arguments that they are all different things. 

A paper from 2014 is still relevant today because the arguments are still current. This paper discusses historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. It’s a long paper, probably best suited to academics. It covers just about every aspect of the issues. It also draws in the ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) and international standards which is quite useful. 

The title of the paper downloadable from ResearchGate says it all, Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects.

What’s it called?

Picture of the back of a house that is being built. The ground is just dirt. Overlaid are words in different colours: Adaptable, Universal, Visitable, Usable, Accessible, Disabled, Flexible Different disciplines, different practitioners, and different countries have evolved their own terms. Academics find this problematic as it makes it difficult to build an international body of research on a topic where terminology can vary so much. Regulations and codes have not helped the cause:

Editor’s note: I also wrote on this thorny topic in 2009: Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? Or you can get the quick version from the PowerPoint presentation.

Abstract

Promoting the efficacies of universally designed built environments has been one of the ongoing quests of disability and ageing advocacy groups, and more recently, governments. The underpinning principle of universal design is inclusiveness – that is, to design across the population spectrum for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. This means ensuring architectural features do not inadvertently become architectural barriers to inclusion in everyday social and economic life.

The drive for social and economic inclusion for people with disabilities has recently moved up the political agenda and new policy directions at national and state levels are emerging. Political will is a necessary but insufficient condition to guarantee inclusion if industry does not understand what constitutes inclusiveness in design, and does not understand the differences in terms used in the built environment in relation to inclusion, disability and ageing.

Using the NSW Government’s call for tenders for social housing, and an academic paper as examples, this paper discusses how using various terms such as accessible and adaptable interchangeably might defeat the objective of inclusion, and how the misuse and confusion in terminology hinders not only the uptake of universal design in a practical way, but also stymies academic debate on the topic.

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